Malibu, the affluent Los Angeles suburb, has constant pop culture appearances that sometimes paint the town as a place of relative nirvana. The sunny beaches and lively nightlife express a feeling of carefreeness, as shown in both reality shows and sitcoms: from Million Dollar Listing to Zoey 101, Malibu is a place you want to be.
Unfortunately, any meteorologist could tell you that Malibu’s geographic location makes it as vulnerable as any other California city when it comes to natural disasters. It’s been affected by at least 25 wildfires over the past century, including the “Corral” fire of 2007, which caused nearly $100 million in damages. The destruction of vegetation makes Malibu a frequent location for mudslides, and its place along the San Andreas fault leads to recurrent earthquakes. While on the surface, Malibu seems to be an ideal living place, that façade crumbles after experiencing one of these disasters.
Los Angeles native Anderson .Paak has had firsthand experience with the dual sides of the Malibu coin. His upbringing was one of immense struggle. .Paak’s mother, a South Korean immigrant, was a compulsive gambler; his father, a former Air Force member, was sent to prison when .Paak was just a boy. He gives us an idea of his upbringing, describing the behaviors of all he was close to going up, then descending into cynicism of the cliché: “We never had to want for nothing/ All we’d ever need is love.” Try telling that to an impoverished child.
.Paak’s pain is a common theme in his major-label debut, Malibu. He grew up just minutes from the bright lights of L.A., yet struggled to find his place. He struggles to find his place musically, as well. Malibu is an incredibly smooth combination of neo-soul, R&B, and hip-hop, with an impressive list of collaborators who all seem to accentuate the music by adding to it but never overshadowing it. Two, in particular, stand out: Rapsody, who adds a pained verse on “Without You”, and BJ the Chicago Kid, whose deft crooning has left me stunned me for some time, especially on the Madlib-produced track “The Waters”.
Very little of his is left undiscussed on Malibu, where .Paak shows off his versatility as a vocalist and songwriter with ridiculous variety on song structures and topics. He discusses his entire life timeline in “The Season | Carry Me”; the two-part song talks about his childhood (“Six years old, I tried my first pair of Jordans on“) and his adult life (“‘Bout the year Drizzy and Cole dropped/ Before K.Dot had it locked/ I was sleeping on the floor newborn baby boy/ Tryna get my money pot so wifey wouldn’t get deported”). He later sings romantically on “Silicon Valley” and “Waterfall”. The latter track has a sexy groove, and .Paak’s deft vocals are the perfect compliment to the instrumentation. He occasionally falls into lyrics that are amateurish (“Lemme see wha’s under them tig ol’ bitties“), but the sheer genuineness of what he sings overshadows any brazenness.
Malibu is a musically and sonically consistent yet versatile album. The superstar cast of producers (Madlib, DJ Khalil, Dem Jointz, and 9th Wonder, to name a few) all add their own specific touches to make the music recognizable while still keeping in the cohesiveness of the record. 9th Wonder takes cues from 90s R&B and soul on “The Season”, and Madlib returns to his jazzy signature on “The Waters”. .Paak seamlessly switches from Kendrick Lamar-style rapping to scratchy, soulful balladeering on a number of tracks, giving him a sound that’s thoroughly unique in today’s pop landscape.
The instrumentals and production are beautiful; brassy call-and-response refrains complement deep grooves from the bass. But just because the album is a satisfying listen doesn’t mean it’s an easy listen; .Paak bares it all, revealing himself to the listener just like the best folk singers would. It’s no wonder he named the album Malibu: despite the pleasant exterior, the potential for self-destruction is there.
Here’s Anderson .Paak on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert:
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Rostam | “EOS”
Wet | “Island”
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Savages | “Adore”
David Bowie | “‘Tis A Pity She Was A Whore”